The Opposition has questioned a Vt6.5 million transaction connected to the Government’s decision to appoint Mr Michael Kalmet as Trade Commissioner.
Copies of a photocopied confidential Service Agreement (SA) between the Vanuatu Property and Migration Services (VPMS) company and a Michael Kalmet (Client) which is currently circulating in media, in relation to an agreement for VPMS to get paid Vt6.5 million to facilitate the appointment of Mr. Kalmet as a Vanuatu Trade Commissioner, has prompted the Leader of Opposition, to question the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Minister of Tourism, Trades, Industry, Commerce and Ni-Vanuatu Business (MoTTICNVB), Joe Natuman, on the involvement of his First Political Advisor (PA), George Iapson, in the transaction.
The Opposition labelled the Vt6.5 million cash payment for services rendered in obtaining an appointment as ‘Trade Commissioner’ as a “deceitful means of obtaining money by defraud and dishonesty masked behind a sham service agreement”.
A statement by the Leader of Opposition, Ishmael Kalsakau dated November 13, attached with a copy of Minister Natuman’s response raised several questions.
In particular: “Who owns the VPMS?” ; “Since when has the Government appointed a private company to represent the government’s interest in sourcing out potential ‘Trade Commissioners’?” and “Why was the 1st PA to the Minister of Trade, a witness to the SA between VPMS and Mr. Kalmet and present in the payment and receipting of Vt6.5 million cash?”
The agreement was signed on May 5 this year, between a Camren Sam representing VPMS; Mr. Kalmet; and witnessed by Mr. Iapson.
The Vt6.5 million confirmed payment was made by a Mr. Michel Sogari, and the document bore a BUJUNBANA HOLDINGS LTD stamp — a subsidiary of the APMA Financial Investment Centre/Cooperative (AFIC).
The Opposition also questioned why the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and External Trade (MoFAICET), Bruno Leingkone made the appointment, saying the appointment should be made by the Minister of Trade.
DPM Natuman, in his response to the Leader of Opposition on November 8, stated, “I have no knowledge of the alleged transactions nor given my approval to anyone in this ministry or outside the ministry to engage in what I consider to be a scam”.
The letter concluded: “ ...i will have it investigated and if any of my political staff is involved, he or she will be dealt with accordingly”.
But the 1st PA to the Minister of Trade, George Iapson, says there is nothing wrong with the appointment and transaction.
“I own the VPMS, along with several others,” he told Daily Post.
“This is an open business transaction, the fee was negotiated and agreed on with the client.
“I will never award a government contract to myself. That, would be a clear conflict of interest.
“I don’t owe anyone anything and I follow the procedures. The client never raised a complaint. The issue here is because people saw the figure.
“I am occupying a very significant position and I could use my position to get contracts, but I am not going to do that. My companies deal with contracts outside the government.
“I have several registered businesses, before entering the political arena. This (VPMS) is just one of them. Business is not new to me.”
He said they were approached to facilitate the appointment, like many others, who do not disclose the agreements in the appointments they facilitate.
“People in Vanuatu don’t work for nothing, even the MPs. Sometimes they get gifts, sometimetimes they ask for fees but we don’t know about them,” said Mr. Iapson.
“This, is a transaction which was put into a contract. Michael was recommended by AFIC, because they wanted a Trade representative abroad to source business opportunities overseas for their members.
“Their presentation was good, it is ideal for the government to appoint a ni-Vanuatu to this position. There are thousands of AFIC members who want to invest their money and grow their businesses.”
The 1st PA has attributed the timing and leakage of the SA, which is a confidential document between the VPMS and Mr. Kalmet, to politics.
“There is a lot of politicking involved in these accusations,” he said.
“These includes politics in the Vanuatu Comodities Marketing Board and internal Vanua’aku Pati politics, attempts to tarnish the reputation of the DPM and also remove me as his first political aide.
“I would never do anything bad against the DPM intentionally or against the law.”
Mr. Iapson added: “The transaction is not a scam. It is quite regular for government officials to make referrals of people living abroad, who are interested in getting appointed as commissioners, consuls and envoys.
“Sometimes the individuals deal directly with the ministers concerned or through the officers.”
In this instant, the 1st PA wrote a letter requesting the appointment and in accordance with the Act, the Acting Director General of Trade, made the letter to his colleague in the MoFAICET.
“I believe in Michael, he is a ni-Vanuatu and the first abroad to be appointed as a Trade Commissioner. The majority of the Trade and Tourism Commissioners appointed by past governments are foreigners, based overseas.
“If Michael resided in Vanuatu, the appointment would have never eventuated. He resides in Fiji and is also AFIC’s agent in Fiji.”
When contacted, the 1st PA to the MoFAICET Minister, Charles Lini, clarified the legality of the powers vested in the MoFAICET Minister to make the appointment, because External Trade is under Foreign Affairs, not the Ministry of Trade.
The power of the Minister of Foreign Affairs to appoint Trade Commissioners is vested under part 11, section 42 of the Foreign Service Act : Appointment of Trade Commissioner — “The Minister may, on the recommendation of the Director General of the Ministry of Trade, by Order appoint a person as a Trade Commissioner to a Mission”.
The MoFAICET has promised a response on Mr. Kalmet’s appointment shortly.